In September 1909, Bishop Isaac Stringer left Fort McPherson for Dawson City with a native guide named Enoch and Charles F. Johnson. The route was 500 miles of some of the most treacherous trail ever travelled in the Yukon. It had taken some of the stampeders of the Klondike gold rush a decade before two years and the Rat River Divide claimed more lives than all the other trails travelled during that period combined. The bishop, familiar with the journey, and his two companions carried eight days-worth of provisions with them and dressed in light clothing, as the river had yet to freeze and the trip was only expected to take five days.
Instead, Enoch fell ill and the group was forced to turn back. The week-long delay meant that Stringer and Johnson had to abandon their canoe when the river began to freeze up around them. The two improvised snow shoes from willow boughs and moccasin strips and started off with three day’s provision. Their five-day trip would not end until fifty-one days had passed. After days of stumbling, lost, searching for a pass through the mountains, they finally ran out of food. What happened next was immortalized by Charlie Chaplin in his movie The Gold Rush.
Years later, Laura Beatrice Berton recounted what the bishop had told her: “For years he had heard of and seen the Indians boiling beaver-skins with the hair off and drinking the soup that formed. The bishop and Johnston decided to accomplish the same feat with their boots, which had walrus soles and seal-skin tops. They scraped what hair they could from them and then, as the snow fell about them, built a fire and boiled the boots for seven hours, afterwards baking them on hot stones. They ate the result, which the bishop told me was tough and stringy, but palatable and fairly satisfying.”
On October 20th the two men managed to find their way to a camp. The final mile to the encampment took them five hours to travel due to the severe exhaustion and starvation they were experiencing. Each had lost about fifty pounds during the adventure and were nearly unrecognizable. Slowly, Stringer and Johnson recovered and the bishop went on to Dawson. Ever since, he has been known as The Bishop Who Ate His Boots.
The first hens imported in Dawson City at the turn of the century would not, as is usual with hens, roost until dark. Of course, these hens were not accustomed to the 24-hour daylight of the Yukon summers and as a result would pass out from fatigue where they stood. As a result, local hen owners were forced to develop shuttered hen houses where they could put their birds during the bright summer nights.
So you want to talk like a Klondike stampeder? Part II
Then there’s Chinook Jargon, a pidgin of about 250 words made up of simplified Chinook words from Oregon and Washington combined with other Native American, English, and French terms first put down in writing by Catholic missionaries.
So you want to talk like a Klondike stampeder? Part I
"Stampeders" are everyone who participated in a gold rush (they all arrive in the area like a stampede).
All newcomers are “cheechakos.” After a cheechako survives his first Yukon winter, he can call himself a real ”sourdough.”
The sourdough flapjacks commonly eaten by stampeders are “sinkers.”
Stewed or baked beans are “strawberries.”
Food is “grub” and your gear is an “outfit,” probably provided by a “grubstake” - an arrangement whereby a storekeeper or other investor furnished an outfit with the promise of a certain percentage should the stampeder make a strike.
Many stampeders who made it to Dawson City during the height of the gold rush were dismayed to discover that all the good creeks had been staked long before. A significant number ended up turning to manual labor, of which there was a constant need. Nearly 100 male laborers reported “wood chopper” as their occupation in 1901. A good supply of fuel for the long Yukon winter was so important that those sentenced to “hard labour” for their crimes were put to work by the North West Mounted Police keeping the government woodpile well stocked.
A local official reported that the work was so hated that “terror of sawing wood for the government” was a surprisingly effective deterrent against crime in Dawson.
In the 1890s the United State army began experimenting with bicycles for its troops. At the time, European armies were testing them and the Japanese had already used bicycles in both Korea and Manchuria.
The 25th infantry, one of four “colored” infantries in the army at the time, conducted many of the most extensive bicycle field trials, though the “wheelmen” never used them in combat.
Nelson A. Miles, the army’s Commanding General confidently declared, “Put an Army on bicycles and their opponents would be at their mercy if they were not similarly equipped.”
Sadly, interest seemed to die out after the Spanish-American War as the army became preoccupied with overseas responsibilities.
“Wild excitements, misery, riches, debauchery, broken hearts, scurvy, frostbite, suicide; the midnight sun, the Arctic night, the Aurora Borealis, the land of gold and paradoxes - that was Dawson in ‘98.”— Nevill Armstrong, stampeder on the city that was “the Golden Mecca of the North”
In the fall of 1897, water levels in the Yukon too low for sternwheelers meant a food shortage in Dawson City, the backwoods metropolis of the Klondike gold rush. The American Congress, in order to keep its citizens from starving, spent $200,000 to buy and ship a herd of 539 reindeer from Norway to Dawson. They arrived in Dyea (close to where I am now) in May. Finally, the 114 reindeer that survived the Dalton Trail showed up in Dawson on January 27, 1899.
Worst. Rescue. Ever.
The Canadian Mounties in the area were a little smarter and convinced people to leave before starvation set in.
Some of the reindeer outside Woodland Park, Seattle en route to the Yukon.